Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Transports of delight?

A few weeks ago the Sunday Times carried an article by Michael Plain, President of Transport 2000, entitled 'The world tells us to take the train',,176-1964924,00.html (testing it just now the link still works, which was a pleasant surprise. I thought one only had a week's grace, so big up to the Times).

Now I admire anyone who is prepared to put their head above the parapet, but do confess an inherent bias against anyone who tells me to do anything (especially when they piggy back a bunch of other folk to add further weight to their views. A a quick tangent veer, this is why it really grates getting 'I have a mandate from the people' from pols who scrape through an election with a pathetic percentage of an apathetic turnout).

So I must confess my first thought was 'then how come you and your crew spend a lot of time whizzing about in all sorts of other, perhaps less environmentally-sound, methods of travel' when you are doing your job?'. 

The answer of course is, and he does admit it, because the job demands it. I can just see some City slicker telling the accounts dept. he's off on a meeting to Hong Kong by train, which will take about 3 weeks and cost a small fortune over and above his executive time. Or, for that matter, me getting us to our next meeting in Telford without driving (at least we swing by Emma's to pick her up en route).

So I'd say it's worth a read. There are some good points he makes, whilst acknowledging that there is no short cut or no magic solution to the problems of increasing car (no mention of planes, at least here) use across the world. 

I especially appreciated the following: "Improved transport is to most people part of an improved quality of life. Mobility helps people to find better work and better living conditions. It keeps families in touch. It helps in the creation of better facilities such as schools, houses and workplaces." Though I think a lot of rich media types in London often forget that this applies to many in the UK when spouting off about what we should stop doing.

But he rightly points out, as have I, that the problem is 'we' like to travel. He doesn't go into the fact that there are too darn many of 'us', with lots more to come, and so there'll be a lot more traveling in the offing. And it's in some of the areas with mega-populations this expectation is going to involve and upgrade to internal combustion-based methods. I fear this will make any efforts on our part pale in comparison, but that's no excuse for inaction, and we need to lead by example. Just... no deckchairs on the Titanic, please.

His piece is thoughtful, and balanced, but mainly a big list of problems (a failing I will admit to sharing, as I can offer few on this topic). I'm sure it is a pity that sheep herders used to walk two days to watch a polo match, but now use trucks. Who can blame them? That's two days not earning, so they now have a way to make a crust and have some fun.

But he does go on to suggest some solutions, which does keep me on side, though I may have some questions about the practical realities of their application vs. the ideals suggested. For instance, bearing in mind the lead about trains, we in Ross can only wonder what it was like when they used to come through here. I'm afraid that all the major centre to major centre links in the world will make no difference if, once you get there, you are stuffed getting to the place you actually want to be in a decent time and for a decent price.

That may be less of a concern for the likes of Michael, who concludes by casting doubt (probably correctly) on the corrective positive effects of market forces alone, and also reassures us that he will "continue to make travel programmes, secure in the knowledge that the terrible conditions he are experiencing are doing more than any government could to persuade people to stay at home". Er, right.

Anyway, check out the full text (especially if the link goes down) on the Transport 2000 site:

It's all part of the debate, and I did find the reader's forum exchanges worthwhile. But I have to say I thought the Editor's blog revealed a certain bias that to me compomises the tone I liked in Michael's article.